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MGySgt Scott Stalker from US Space Command: goals and risks in the space operating environment.

How the combatant command is adapting to new challenges in the digital era of space operations, new operational concepts, and building the force to deter aggression.





Our full conversation with Scott Stalker, Master Gunnery Sergeant in the US Marine Corps and Command Senior Enlisted Leader at US Space Command. He shares how the combatant command is adapting to new challenges in the digital era of space operations, new operational concepts, and building the force to deter aggression.

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T-Minus Deep Space Guest

Scott Stalker, Command Senior Enlisted Leader at US Space Command, shares how the combatant command is adapting to new challenges in the digital era of space operations, new operational concepts, and building the force to deter aggression.

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>> Maria Varmazis: The United States Space Command's mission is to make sure there's never a day without space. The importance of these space-based systems in the daily life for civilian and military use is growing fast. The pace of the evolution of threats to space systems is breakneck, and the nature of those challenges are increasingly technically complex and sometimes physically precarious. There's nothing easy about this, and that's why there's a great deal that the US Space Command is doing to try and meet if not get ahead of these challenges, all while building relationships with industry partners and, most importantly, training the people who deploy and defend these crucial space systems. To learn more about how the US Space Command is working to meet these challenges head on, I spoke with Master Gunnery Sergeant Scott Stalker, the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for the United States Space Command. Here's our full conversation. 1:12 Yes, good morning. My name is Scott Stalker, Master Gunnery Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. And I've been serving in the Marine Corps for 31 years now, and I'm currently the Command Senior Enlisted Leader for United States Space Command.

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you very much for joining me today, and I really appreciate you taking the time. So let's dive right into it. I have to ask the obligatory first question because I know some of our listeners are going to be asking. And I apologize in advance. Can you please walk us through the difference between Space Force and Space Command?

>> Scott Stalker: Yes. Thank you, Maria. And thank you for having me. That is a question that I get often. That is a question that members of this command get often. And, quite frankly, it's a question that members of the Space Force get often. And so, to clarify, let me start actually in 1986 where we had what we call a DoD Reorganization Act, and that was done by members of Congress, also known as the Goldwater-Nichols Act. That's - that clarified the roles of combatant commands and the roles of services. And so you have combatant commands today, eleven of those. Some of them you may be familiar with: Cyber Command, Space Command, Special Operations Command, Central Command, so on and so forth. Those combatant commands and Space Command are giving a mission by the President of the United States. And they are also given what we call either an area of responsibility, in our case, space, which begins 100 kilometers above the Earth's surfaces, and who knows where it ends; or what we would call a functional area, such as Cyber Command. Since it's not geographic, they have a functional role. The services, in this case, Space Force, have the responsibility to organize their force, train their force, and equip their force and then provide those capabilities to the Joint Force. In this case, the Space Force, those service members are just like soldiers, just like Marines or sailors. They are service members, and they would be provided to Space Command or other combatant commands within the Joint Force. And so you have - you have services that get their folks ready. And then those services are provided - those service members are provided to combatant commands. And that is the whole way that the DoD org - Reorganization Act was put together. And so my boss, General Dickinson, who is the Commander of Space Command, he's an Army four-star. And he has the authorities that the President and the Secretary of Defense has given him to operate and to do his mission in the space AOR, again, AOR being the area of responsibility, 100 kilometers above the Earth's surface.

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you for walking us through that. I appreciate that because, as I said, I imagine you get that question a lot. And I'm sure many of our listeners just needed that context. So thank you. So, speaking of context, can you help me understand the challenges facing Space Command, specifically in protecting space assets from cyber threats, specifically, and maybe the priorities that you have to address those.

>> Scott Stalker: Yeah. Great question again, too. And so there's two things I want to touch on here. One is I'm certainly not going to give the adversary an understanding of where we have challenges. But what I will say is anyone that operates in space has to - has to protect both the space capability, whether that's a satellite or whatever that is in space. We have to - we have to protect the ground station and then the link in between. And so all of those three, again, the space capability, the ground station, and the link require great cybersecurity, and we have to defend that. We have done an exceptional job here of what we call integrating capabilities through this entirety of integrated deterrence. And so, as this command was built - and we're just a few years old. So we started on the 29th of August 2019, whereas the Space Force came a few months later on the 20th of December 2019. And so, as we built this command, we built this with the understanding of the importance of cybersecurity. And so Cyber Command has provided us what we call a cyber operations integrated planning element. Those are people here that have the authorities of Cyber Command working in Space Command and getting after our challenges. We have a joint cyber center as well. And those are cyber professionals making sure that we're securing our critical infrastructure. We also have components. And so, for example, the Marine Corps and the Navy have what they call MARFORSPACE or Navy Space. The interesting thing on those two organizations is they're dual-hatted, where they are - they provide capabilities to both Space Command and Cyber Command as MARFORCYBER and Fleet Cyber. And so we have all of that built in to the command, and all of that is goodness. And then the Space Force, when they stood up, they created what they call deltas. And those are commands run by colonels, 06-level commanders. They have a Delta 6, which gets after our critical space infrastructure; and they provide cybersecurity there. So all of that integrated. And then really what's exceptional is the fact that we have a commercial integration. So we have partners and allies, and that's where we have a great strength that our competitors don't necessarily have is we have allies working in our building, working collectively together to make sure that we have integrated deterrence and enabled to do global operations, and then the commercial integration cell. So all of that combined is really baked into - from the beginning. And it's not where it was in many years - many years ago where sometimes cyber was an afterthought. We've started understanding the critical needs of cyber and the integration between Cyber Command and Space Command. And so it's baked in from the start. And it really, again, three years old where we're continuing to mature this out, understand our challenges. And we exercise this too. And I think the goodness of exercising is not so much just the exercises. It's, when we're done, we assess ourselves and say, Hey, how can we improve? I hope that answers your question.

>> Maria Varmazis: It certainly does. And there's a lot of really interesting information in there. So I want to - first I imagine with the dual expertise of both cyber and space, as you mentioned, that would also help address not just the nature of the evolving threat but also the pace, correct?

>> Scott Stalker: Absolutely. And so that gets to why we do these exercises. That's why I focus a lot on the development of our people because we have to understand we've got to be ready. And the beautiful thing of this command is we're hyper focused on our warfighting readiness, making sure that, if the President or the Secretary of Defense calls on us or the Joint Force, we can provide those capabilities at a moment's notice. We hope that doesn't happen. We certainly want to deter aggression and make sure that there isn't a conflict. But because of the pace of both cyber and space, we don't have time to, you know, take time off and get ready. We have to be ready.

>> Maria Varmazis: I understand that. And speaking of personnel development, so I know that this is an area that's particularly close to your heart. So can you walk me through how the Space Command is evolving its approach to training, especially perhaps in regards to enlisted troops?

>> Scott Stalker: Absolutely. Yes. It is a passion of mine. But it's not a passion of mine just because I woke up one day and said, Hey, this is a good idea. It was given to me by the Commander. And so that's the goodness of this is General Dickinson, the Commander here, has empowered me to do this. He's directed me to do this. We are focused as a command on deterring aggression, on defeating our enemies, on delivering capabilities to the Joint Force, and defending this nation. And I call those our four D's. Those four D's are quintessential. Those are requirements that we've got to do every single day. But, in order to do those four D's, we've got to do what I call the fifty, and that is development. And development has to be by design. It can't be, you know, a check in the box, an annual one-hour presentation. And so by design, from the get-go when I got here, I really set out on a mission to make sure that we are talking at the Army Sergeant Majors Academy. We are talking at the Marine Corps University, Air University, the Joint Special Operations University, all of those critical professional military education universities that develop the Joint Force, I'm there. I'm actually leaving again next week to do some more of this and then, within our own headquarters, making sure that individuals that come in, whether they work administrative jobs, logistics, jobs, or space operations, they are developed too. They fully understand the threat. And the reason they've got to understand the threat is that's context, right. So Simon Sinek says start with why. That gives them their why, that they understand why they do what they do. We saw in 2014 when Russia illegally annexed Crimea. We saw on the 15th of November when Russia shot down one of their own satellite using their own missile and shot down one of their own satellites, left thousands of pieces of debris up there. We saw on the 24th of February just a few months later in 2022 when they illegally invaded Ukraine and continue to execute their war of choice. We saw all of that happen. And so making sure my folks, the people here, not - and it's not just enlisted, but it's one of my focus areas - fully understand that the threat is real, that we have adversaries, both China and Russia, that have conducted destructive test in space and left thousands of pieces of debris up there. This is real. And the other piece of this, too, and I want to emphasize this, Maria, is space is not new. And what I mean by that is we - space has been providing capabilities to combat operations since Vietnam, where we actually had satellites providing SATCOM and not SATCOM, so to speak, but communications and making sure that we understood the weather. And that was, you know, early on in this, and it's matured now to where we can execute satellite communications globally. We can have intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance globally. We can do precision-guided munitions globally. And you saw that in Desert Storm, where we called smart bombs, if you will; and certainly use GPS and that sort of thing. So it's real. And that's why developing our people is a focus area of mine.

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back after this quick break. And you also mentioned earlier about industry partnership. Can you go into a little bit more detail about maybe some of the opportunities there or things that you're excited about in regards with working with industry.

>> Scott Stalker: Yeah. It's a big deal. And coming up, we have what we call the Space Symposium shortly. And that is a huge event right out here in Colorado Springs where we gather. We gather with partners and allies. We gather with many members of industry. And that's the great opportunity for us to talk about our issues and challenges in this domain and for industry to address those and look at where they can innovate and move rapidly to provide capabilities. It's an exceptional partnership. Right out in Vandenberg Space Force Base, we have what we call the Commercial Integration Cell, the CIC. On that watch floor at all levels of classification we have members of industry sitting there. And the importance of that is, one, they understand not just the challenges and the threat today but what the future looks like. And then - and then maybe even more important for us is their ability to innovate and provide capabilities for us. And we've seen - we've seen the importance of this. You've seen a couple commercial companies, without calling out specific names, as Russia invaded Ukraine, we saw that they were able to provide capabilities to the Ukraine people to make sure they continue to communicate. Remarkable speed, agility. And, in many ways, it's the evolution of conflict, if you will, where we often would focus on this idea of whole-of-government approach. And in space, at least, it's expanded past that. It's more of a whole-of-society approach where we have certainly the government, but we have partners and allies that are outside of the government, we have industry, we have academia, all collectively working together to make sure that we can ensure that there's never a day without space so that, when you want to use your cell phone, when you want to watch the game on TV, when you want to make an ATM transaction, or when you need to navigate or fly on an airplane, all of those capabilities that we take for granted will continue to work. And that is because of the great people that we have in the Commercial Integration Cell and our relationships with them, which are critical.

>> Maria Varmazis: So staying on that thread for a moment. So when I say industry, I mean cybersecurity as well as the space industry. So I'm using a little broadly here. But thinking of those two sort of segments of industry, what would you say that they could do to maybe better support Space Command?

>> Scott Stalker: Well, you know, I think we're - we've got a great relationship. What we have to do is continue to understand that this isn't stagnant. We have to - we have to continue to understand the challenges and threat and the technology that's out there. We understand generative AI and ChatGPT and those things, whether you call them evolutionary, revolutionary technologies that are out there, we have to stay ahead of those and - or at least keep pace with those capabilities. And so I think, for us, it's not so much, you know, that they're not providing anything. It's more of let's stay current because, if we rest on our laurels and we've got, you know, the iPhone 3 as an example, and meanwhile the adversary has got the 14 and the 15, we're behind. And that's really where it is. And so this is - this is both a technological challenge and a talent challenge. We've got to make sure we continue to invest in the right talent, to develop that talent, and then from a technology perspective make sure that the commercial sector and then within the department that we continue to innovate rapidly and as rapidly as we can. So it's not - it's not me pointing the finger and saying they're not doing something. It's saying, we just have to continue to challenge ourselves, to look in the mirror and saying, Are we doing the best that we can and innovate as fast as we can.

>> Maria Varmazis: Switching to government agencies, so how is Space Command collaborating with different government agencies?

>> Scott Stalker: Great question. Let me - let me use NASA as a great example, our incredible partners. And you saw recently, a few days ago they announced how Artemis II is going forward. And they announced the astronauts and our Canadian ally that's going to be there as well. A remarkable story. And so when NASA executes these mission, obviously, the humans have to come back to Earth. And when they come back to Earth, we have a great relationship with NASA and an understanding and an agreement where we will do the human spaceflight recovery missions. And so Space Command is in charge of that mission. And we coordinate that with what we call Air Force Space Command - Air Forces Space, excuse me. And they do the human spaceflight support mission. Those are airmen that will literally go out, out on the seas working with the Navy and recover those astronauts, bring them back. And so, as all of this is happening, we're communicating. Here's a - here's another example is back to that 15th of November operation. While the Russians had shot down their missile, we were here in the joint operation center keeping an eye and tracking all of that. And as that was happening, having close conversations with NASA, just in case, we had to - we had to recommend to them that they had to evacuate the International Space Station. Now, luckily, we did not have to do that. But we kept an - we kept an eye on that debris, and we were in constant communication with them. And so I think we have a remarkable relationship with them. We continue to exercise this, continue to work together. As they explore the universe, we want to make sure that we take care of the people that do that. And, as they come back, we're focused on that human spaceflight support mission.

>> Maria Varmazis: Thank you for that. And I know this is sort of a broad question but, for you regarding Space Command, what does success look like?

>> Scott Stalker: What does success look like? I - I have thought about this a lot. And as a warfighter who's been in for 31 years, who has deployed a lot, who has unfortunately had to bury teammates - I buried my own brother-in-law - I think success looks like one day waking up and seeing that global peace has broken out. I think most war fighters that have done this before really would love to get to a place where we can have a peaceful world and a peaceful society. The reality is, in order to get there, in order to arm our diplomats and to have strength, we've got to have a ready military. And so I would - I would think, you know, success, as, you know, in this domain, if you will, would be one where any nation, any company that wants to put a capability in space to do good for the world, for the globe is able to do that in a free and open way. And so Space Command is focusing on making sure that space is free and open for all, that we can all use space, and we can all benefit from the capabilities that are out there. It's making sure that every citizen across the globe and here in America is able to take for granted in many ways the space capabilities because they don't have to worry about that. And I think that would be success.

>> Maria Varmazis: Many of our listeners are especially in the industry. Anything you would like to say in terms of what you would like to see, what industry can do to help? I know we've touched on that a little bit, but I just wanted to give you some open space to address industry.

>> Scott Stalker: Yeah. Let me say exactly what General Dickinson says, and that is we are open for business. We have on our website an industry portal. And so if you have a smart idea, if you have a great capability, if you are talent looking for employment, we are open for business. We are open for good ideas. We are not focused on how it used to be. We're looking at what it will be in the future. And so whether it's Space Symposium coming up or - you know, and I have an awful lot of individuals reach out to me and ask to have conversations about a widget they have or an idea that they have. Again, we're open for business. And we're open to those ideas with our partners and allies and with the commercial sector and academia as well, which is critical to this. And so I would say reach out to us with your great idea. Reach out to us and so we can understand how we can provide better cybersecurity so those three segments I talked about are defended and so that we can ensure that there never is a day without space.

>> Maria Varmazis: Master Gunnery Sergeant Scott Stalker, thank you so much for joining me today. I really appreciate your time, and it's been a delight speaking with you.

>> Scott Stalker: You, too, Maria. Thank you very much.

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